As I have listened to his radio interviews though, I have thought more about what was wrong with his narrative. Specifically, Woodard jumps too quickly over the American Founding and Early Republic to the 1830s where he comes up with his story proceeding from George Bancroft and William Gilmore Simms about the clash between the dueling visions of civic nationalism and ethnonationalism. This is already a liberal narrative and a dishonest one.
As I read into the sources he cited in American Nations, I came across the work of Jack P. Greene. Greene argued that the Chesapeake was America’s dominant regional culture during the American Founding and the Early Republic which would make sense since it produced 4 out of our first 6 presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe). Yankeedom and the Deep South became more prominent after the 1830s. It was the Chesapeake, not Yankeedom, which set the tone of the American mainstream.
The Chesapeake’s vision of America was the White Republic. It simply isn’t true that William Gilmore Simms came up with ethnonationalism. Ethnonationalism was the dominant mainstream consensus in America from George Washington straight through Abraham Lincoln. This only changed during Reconstruction because it was only then that Yankeedom became ascendant over the Union. It was Yankeedom that argued ethnonationalism and civic nationalism were incompatible.
The South dominated the United States until Lincoln was elected president. Blacks were not citizens of any Southern state. Insofar as free blacks briefly possessed voting rights in a few Southern states after the Revolution, they lost those rights. Manumission laws were tightened. Civil rights were also tightened. The South also became more conservative in the Early Republic and Antebellum periods. This culminated in the Dred Scott decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that blacks were not American citizens.
Outside of the South, the fact that the Chesapeake set the mainstream of American development before the War Between the States becomes even more obvious. Blacks were citizens of Pennsylvania and had voting rights there until 1838. Massachusetts repealed its anti-miscegenation law in 1834 in the Antebellum era. Connecticut didn’t accept black citizenship and voting rights until the Reconstruction era. Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Maine and Rhode Island repealed their anti-miscegenation laws in the Gilded Age while Indiana waited until the 1960s. The Midwestern states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois outright restricted the settlement of free blacks. Blacks were banned from settling in Oregon too. On the eve of the War Between the states, only five New England states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – recognized black citizenship. Everywhere else the thought of it was anathema which is why Abraham Lincoln went to such great lengths to repudiate the charge of “Black Republicanism” that was made by Stephen Douglas who accused him of wanting to abolish slavery and unleash a tidal wave of free black settlers on Illinois. Even in 1860, the moderate Lincoln was elected with 39.8% of the vote.
Clearly, it was New Englanders and their ethnic outposts in states like Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota who believed in racial equality and championed the liberal ideal of civic nationalism. They were not the American mainstream before the War Between the States. The ethnonationalist vision of America was ascendant. That’s why it was necessary to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Force Acts and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as well as the Reconstruction Amendments to create a liberal republic. The Confederacy fought to preserve the status quo while the Union fought to overturn it.
There was no such thing as “civil rights” until the War Between the States and Reconstruction. Massachusetts passed the first civil rights law in American history in 1865. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first federal civil rights law. New York City and Philadelphia were only integrated during the War Between the States. Before the war, free blacks either lived under black codes or were outright excluded in most of the North outside of the Eastern states. The ethnonationalist vision prevailed from the American Founding until the War Between the States even outside of the South.
The American Founding was not a liberal vision of civic nationalism. The Founding Fathers only established equality between the states in the Constitution. Their ideal was Liberty. Equality only mattered in the sense of an equal right to liberty. Before Reconstruction, it was up to the states to determine who was a citizen and who was not, who had voting rights and who did not as well as to regulate morals and this was all done without equality in the sense it is understood today in mind. Jefferson, Madison and Monroe came up with the idea of resettling free blacks in Africa which led to the creation of Liberia.
In sum, there was a dominant vision of an American nation at the outset during the American Founding and Early Republic. It was simultaneously civic nationalist and ethnonationalist. The White Republic was the vision of the Chesapeake and the Virginia Dynasty and it dominated the mainstream of American culture. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted the naturalization of immigrants to “free white persons.” This vision of who was a potential American dominated the country until the 1950s and 1960s.
As Jack P. Greene has shown, New England’s development was the exception to the American rule. New England started out as an extremely cohesive society only to become less so over time. In contrast, every other American colony more closely resembled the Chesapeake. Those societies started out less cohesive and became more so over time. The mainline of American development ran through Jamestown which is why New England was politically and culturally marginalized in the White Republic.
Why doesn’t Colin Woodard acknowledge this? It is dicey to acknowledge that the liberal vision came later in American history and challenged the existing order which was the White Republic because that would give credence to White Nationalism. Even in Massachusetts, its anti-miscegenation law was only repealed in the 1834 and “civil rights” only triumphed in 1865. Nationally, the liberal vision triumphed in the Reconstruction era and the retreat from it began almost immediately.